“You’re cute for a dark skinned girl” That’s something I heard a lot growing up as if being dark skinned was a bad thing! There are so many things I loved about growing up in Nigeria but one of the sad things I saw was some people bleaching/lightening their skin to attain a different color.
Skin bleaching/lightening is the intentional use of products to change from dark to light skin color. The use of skin lightening products is prevalent in people of African descent, Asia, the Caribbean and Middle East. These products work by reducing the amount of melanin in the skin. Before going over the risks, I want us to take some time to understand why some people decide to do it. There may be several reasons people decide to lighten their skin but I would like to explore three main ones
A lot of African countries were used to be colonized by Europe. Unfortunately, the effects of colonial ideologies are still deep rooted. These ideologies unfortunately celebrates the idea that being white is superior to being black; or being light skinned will get you more “favors” than being dark. These ideologies have been unintentionally passed on through generations and we see their effects today.
Global Beauty Standards
Although people in different cultures have tried to lighten their skin for centuries, there’s evidence that skin bleaching is on the rise partly because of mass marketing of global standards of beauty. Advertising across the world in beauty magazines, TV commercials, movies etc. have suggested, and in some cases blatantly depicted that having dark skin is less desirable. While I think there’s been great strides with inclusion and representation of dark-skinned women and men in the beauty industry in recent years, I believe we still have a long way to go.
Attainment of Social Capital/Status/Economic Capital
Social capital is the potential increase in a person’s value in social networks or in social settings. Economic capital refers to money, assets, properties etc. To some individuals, skin bleaching may represent a high paying job, a promotion or a perceived increase in value, in various social settings.
You see because of social conditioning or implicit bias, many people treat dark skinned individuals differently (often times more inferior) than light skinned individuals. As a result, people lighten their skin in an effort to “create” more opportunities for themselves. According to the Journal of Pan African Studies, urban women in countries like Nigeria, Jamaica, South Africa, and even Africans in the diaspora; are competing in the global job market and often compete for jobs with people from other racial or ethnic groups. Since a lot of leaders in various job sectors are often lighter skinned individuals with Anglo-features, it’s easy to see how color discrimination can be a motivating factor to use lightening products for many women.
Now that we have a better understanding of why some people may decide to bleach their skin, let’s dive into what these products contain
Skin bleaching agents contain either a single active agent or a combination of active agents. Hydroquinone is the main lightening agent in most of these products, which can be used to treat hyper-pigmentation disorders like melasma or post-inflammatory discoloration. Other skin lightening agents contain topical steroids. Both of these are available as prescription and non-prescription products in the US. When used appropriately, the risk of complications is low. However, using unregulated products can be dangerous because they often contain high doses of hydroquinone, steroids and other illegal agents
The risks of bleaching creams include but not limited to:
– Mercury toxicity
– Premature skin aging
– May increase the risk of skin cancer
– Skin thinning
– Skin infections and poor wound healing
– Black patches most commonly on the cheeks, temple and neck that is very hard to treat (Ochronosis)
– Skin irritation/allergic reaction
– Hyper-pigmentation of the finger joints and toes
What’s My Take?
I personally think that all natural skin colors are beautiful and dark skin is no exception! Dark skin is lustrous and rich in melanin, which has some protective effects from the sun. It has a beautiful glow to it and it is a shame that many people have been systematically persuaded that there is something inherently wrong with being dark. For those who may be thinking about lightening their skin, I think you should think long and hard before doing so. If for nothing else, the health effects are simply not worth it.
For anyone reading this, especially young girls out there who may be struggling to love their skin, know this- YOU ARE CREATED BEAUTIFUL JUST THE WAY YOU ARE! Don’t let anyone ever tell you any different. Remember “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” If you’re struggling with accepting your skin color, please let some of these famous dark skinned beauties, who happen to also be successful inspire you
Names in order of picture from top left corner: Genevieve Nnaji, Gabrielle Union, Michelle Obama, Lupita Nyong’o, Oprah Winfrey, Yvonne Orji, Danai Gurira, Tika Sumpter, Letitia Wright
Written by simplyfunmi